Our Early History
From notes by Kate Andrews ca 1965
In 1670, the English Crown had given all the land drained by the rivers flowing into Hudson's Bay, to Prince Rupert by Charter. The land was owned by the Hudson's Bay Co., properly called "The Gentlemen Adventurers, Trading into Hudson's Bay", who used the area for fur trading. Lord Selkirk had established a settlement on the Red River near Winnipeg to keep a check on the North West Fur Trading Co. of Montreal.
In 1811, when Lord Selkirk purchased 116,000 square miles of land from the Hudson's Bay Co., it was partly in Manitoba, partly in Minnesota, and partly in North Dakota. The settlement met with many setbacks. Settlers from the other British colonies in the Maritimes and eastern Canada were told of hardships by the fur traders who resented their coming, as civilization drove the animals farther away from the posts. The trek west, up the Great Lakes into the land of lakes at the western end, was a grim journey. Most who came west came through the United States. It was an easier route, with better provision for supplies and refitting along the way.
The political leaders of the American frontier states openly pushed expansion into British territory, and there is strong evidence that this movement was tolerated by Washington, if not directly encouraged. This made the Government of Upper and Lower Canada uneasy. In 1865 Sir John A. Macdonald, George Cartier, George Brown and Sir Alexander Galt, journeyed to London to discuss the vital importance of opening up the Canadian north west to enterprise and immigration. Confederation was another important question and politicians were aware that time was running out. In 1866 a bill was presented to the House of Representatives in Washington providing for "The states of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Canada East and Canada West". Provision was also made for the organization of the Territories of Selkirk, Saskatchewan and Columbia. Article XI of this presumptuous bill stated 'The United States,would pay ten million dollars to the Hudson's Bay Co. in full discharge of all claims and territory or jurisdiction of North America, whether founded on the charter of the Company or any treaty, law or usage."
In 1846, the Oregon Treaty signed by the United States and Great Britain settled on the 49th parallel as the base line border in the west. The details of the line at the Pacific and on the west end of Lake Superior was not defined and cleared until Jay's Treaty between Canada and the United States was signed in 1874.
In the mid 1860's gold was discovered along the banks of the Saskatchewan River, and in 1868 the Minnesota Legislature protested (to Britain) the transfer of the Hudson's Bay Co. territories to Canada without a vote of the settlers. It further passed a resolution saying "It would rejoice to be assured that the cession of the North West British Territories to the United States was regarded by Britain and Canada, as satisfactory provisions of a treaty, which shall remove all ground of controversy between the respective countries."
Until 1867 the British colonies in North America consisted of five colonies, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Ontario. There was a small English settlement on the West coast and Ontario and Quebec had been won from the French in 1763. The Constitution Act of 1791 named the two provinces Upper and Lower Canada. The Act of Union, 1841, gave the first responsible government to these provinces, but the Maritimes had it much earlier.
The Confederation agreement was not easily obtained. Sir Alexander T. Galt introduced the subject of unity of the British colonies in North America into practical politics, when he spoke of it during a meeting of the Federation of the North American Provinces in 1858. Sir Alexander at that time was leader of the English minority in Lower Canada's parliament. The Maritime provinces were also considering a union, and in September 1864, the Charlottetown conference was held in Prince Edward Island. Representatives gathered from Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island to discuss a Maritime confederation.
Observers from Upper and Lower Canada were present and extended an invitation to all to attend a conference in Quebec on October 10, 1864, to discuss a Canadian Confederation. At this conference, agreement to proceed was given by all except Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island. Sir Alexander Galt attended both these conferences, as well as taking part in the negotiations held in London with the British Cabinet and the Minister for Colonial Affairs.
At one of the meetings held in London to discuss the clauses of the British North America Act, which established Confederation, the question of a name arose. Quoting a verse from the Bible, "His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the rivers to the end of the earth", Sir Leonard Tilley suggested that the name be 'Dominion of Canada'.
In 1867 after long discussions and many setbacks, the Agreement of Confederation was signed by Upper and Lower Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Prince Edward Island joined later.
The British North America Act became law on July 1, 1867. Four provinces now formed Canada, Ontario, Quebec,
The Hudson's Bay Co., with its English shareholders, had received discouraging reports on the land values of its holdings. In 1857 Capt. John Palliser had been commissioned by the Imperial Government to make a technical survey of the area south of the North Saskatchewan River, between the Red River and the Rockies. He was to report on the physical features, minerals and coal, forest resources, suitability of soil for farming, and quality of soil. His was a gloomy report. He referred to it as the Northern American Desert. In his opinion there were no forests, no minerals, little rain, and the land was not fit to support humans. It was only fit for buffalo. Reports filtering east on the American side of the border, reinforced Palliser's findings. The area from Mexico to mid Alberta was referred to as the "Great American Desert". Little was known of southern Alberta before the North West Mounted Police arrived in 1874. Much of the region was a blank space on Canadian maps. Early traders knew the country, but this knowledge had not been recorded on maps.
The year Palliser was commissioned to make the first technical survey in Western Canada, Sir George Simpson, Governor of the Hudson's Bay Co., told a committee of the British House of Commons, "that no part of the territories of the company were well adapted for settlement". He added "That in the Saskatchewan country the company's servants had very seldom been able to raise wheat, and the coast of British Columbia was wholly unfit for colonization." However in 1849 the Hudson's Bay Co. got a land grant of Vancouver Island, not to colonize, but to hold in check the American traders from the south.
During the years from its establishment, 1670, until 1869, the Hudson's Bay Co. had never encouraged farming near its posts or started any settlements, except for the tacit consent given to Lord Selkirk to form a settlement on the Red and Assiniboia rivers in 1812, near the present city of Winnipeg.
In the early 1860's, the Hudson's Bay Co. was closing its forts as the price of beaver skins dropped and the falling number of beaver and other furs taken, made the operation of the posts uneconomical.
The decline of the fur trade made the Hudson's Bay Co. consider favorably the offer of the Canadian government to purchase the western plains. An agreement was reached in 1869 and Canada purchased the four Western provinces for $300,000.00. When it sold the land, the Hudson's Bay Co. retained its trading privileges along with two sections, (8 and 26) in after Canada had purchased the land from the Hudson's Bay Co.
In 1871, after the Canadian Government pledged that a transcontinental railroad would be built to link the west coast to the east, British Columbia joined confederation, and in 1873, Prince Edward Island became a Canadian province.
The trading post of Fort Whoop-Up, established in 1867 near the junction of the St. Mary's and Old Man River, was an early settlement in Southern Alberta.
Operated by two Americans, Hamilton and Healy, it was supplied from Fort Benton in Montana. The post was called Fort Hamilton, after one of the partners, Alfred B. Hamilton, but later came to be known as Fort Whoop-Up. The cannon that guarded Fort Whoop-Up is now at the Fort Whoop-Up Interpretive Centre, and a cairn marks the old site. The first buildings were not strongly constructed, and when fire partially destroyed them in 1870 they were rebuilt on a new location about 300 yards north, by William S. Gladstone, a former boat builder of the Hudson's Bay Company.
The trading post dealt in the same line of goods as other fur company posts; groceries, guns, shot and powder, and whiskey. In trade they took furs, horses and buffalo hides. Buffalo hides played a part in the industrial development of the United States and Canada, as they were used as belts for the early industrial machines, the reapers and threshing machines. The hides also became robes and coats. No record exists locally to show the number sent south by the early traders, but Fort Benton records show trade of 70,000 hides a year.
Fort Benton on the Missouri River, 70 miles northeast of Great Falls, was established in 1850 by Col. Cuthbertson. It was the end of navigation for boats coming from St. Louis, Missouri, with provisions for the Western states. The I. G. Baker Co., later Conrad Brothers, had a wholesale-retail outlet in Fort Benton where food staples, hardware, guns, powder and lead bullets, shoes, clothing and furniture, and any other supplies needed by the traders and settlers could be purchased.
Fort Benton was over 200 miles from Ft. Whoop-Up, Fort Macleod and later Lethbridge. There were no railroads, no roads, no cars and no aeroplanes. How then did people and goods get to Southern Alberta? They came by 'bull team" or oxen with heavy wagons on what was known as the Benton Trail, part of a travel route that extended the length of the American continent, just east of the Rocky Mountains. After the Northwest Mounted Police came to Fort Macleod, this last link travelled by white men was extended to Calgary, where it met a much older trail to Edmonton and the north.
The Benton trail crossed the Belly river from Ft. Whoop-Up and moved east ,just south of the Felger farm, swinging south at the east end of the lake at Stirling, then southwest of the Sweetgrass Hills and on to Fort Benton. When Lethbridge was formed, the road branched east of the Felger Colony farm and moved north to cross the Six Mile coulee at the J. J. Tiffin farm, then northwest into Lethbridge. The present Galt Gardens in Lethbridge is where the bull teams outspan.
A Murphy wagon was one type of wagon used in the bull team train. This was a very heavy wagon that could carry ten to twelve tons of freight. It had large wheels, sometimes with iron tires up to six inches across, sometimes wrapped with rawhide made from buffalo hides. Hide was easily available at that time, while blacksmiths and iron were only available at Benton. Occasionally two of these wagons were hitched as a unit, the rear wagon trailing, while the bulls or oxen were hitched to the front wagon. From 8 to 16 oxen hitched in pairs, formed the team. Yokes of wood were used, sometimes horse collars, but these were used upside down on oxen. The harness had no breaching, so the wagons were equipped with brakes or heavy drags for steep down hill stretches of road. The leaders of the team were the fastest walkers, the swingers or second pair, the steadiest in an emergency, and the wheelers did the heavy work, and formed the balance of the team.
The teamster used a goad which had a sharp prod on one end and a lash 16 feet long on the other. The words of command were "gee" and "haw", and profanity when things went wrong, such as deep mud, hordes of flies and mosquitoes, or thunder storms. For rocky, stony roads, oxen were sometimes shod, two half moon plates for each foot.
Oxen were turned out at evening, a young ox yoked to a quiet, broken ox to graze. A good trip from Benton to Macleod took a month, two and a half months was allowed for a round trip. George Levasseur, who resided at Pincher Creek in later years, was a noted "bull whacker" of the early trail days. The trains were made up of many wagons travelling together, for company, help, and security. The Indians of Montana were not as peaceful as those in Alberta, as this was the era of Custer and the Battle of the Little Big Horn when Sitting Bull rebelled in 1867. A train camped near water if available, and made from 6 to 20 miles a day, depending on loads, weather conditions and grazing
Two farms in this area were broken by the use of oxen. George Heathershaw broke the NW 114 15-8-21 W4, or as many may know it, the C. E. Parry farm, and the last oxen used in the district were on the S.E. 1/4 26-8-21 W4 - 2 miles north of the McNally School, by Mr. William Lloyd. While oxen in the early days were referred to as bulls, they were actually steers broken to harness and wagon work.
The Northwest Mounted Police had established law and order under nCommissioner French in 1873 and Colonel Macleod in 1876. The vast herds of buffalo had disappeared, leaving the Indians starving. Thirty thousand hides had been shipped to Fort Benton from Fort Whoop-Up and other south Alberta Posts, but in the year 1879, the number dropped to 14,000.
The original owners of Fort Whoop-Up, Hamilton and Healy went on to other ventures. Alfred B. Hamilton returned to Montana and was later elected to the state Legislature. John J. Healy appeared during the Klondike gold rush days in the Yukon, where he operated a transport company. Later he returned to Montana, died a pauper and was buried there.
Dave Akers was the agent at the fort when Commissioner French brought the North West Mounted Police through Southern Alberta in 1874. The Police offered $10,000.00 to Hamilton and Healy to purchase the fort for the site of the Police headquarters in Southern Alberta. The offer was refused as it is reported to have cost $25,000.00 to construct the post, so the Police moved on to Macleod.
The trade at Fort Whoop-Up dwindled, as duties were imposed on imports and the whiskey trading to the Indians was curbed. Dave Akers remained, however, as a rancher, until a quarrel with a former partner over division of livestock, led to murder.
When the trading Post closed, Akers, his Indian wife, and children remained. He had a few cattle he ran with the herd of Tom Purcell on the Pot Hole, six miles southwest of the present town of Magrath. In 1900 Tom Purcell discovered a coal seam in a coulee bank where the Jensen Dam now forms a lake. Tom started working the mine, and as the Mormon settlers were taking up land in Raymond and Magrath areas, it looked like a paying venture. Dave Akers decided this might be more profitable than cattle ranching. He made a deal and traded his cattle for Purcell's share in the mine. Things prospered for awhile, then the seam started to "peter out". Dave then wanted his cattle back, but Purcell said "No, we made an honest deal in good faith, so it stands, the cattle are mine". Akers returned to Fort Whoop-Up, but he was bitter and brooded. Soon all the ranchers were aware that Dave Akers carried a rifle and was gunning for Purcell. His friends tried to talk him out of his spite and determination to kill, but it was useless.
One morning he saddled up and rode to Purcell's. There seemed to be no one around, so he gathered up what he considered his share of the cattle and held them in the corral. Just as he was ready to drive them out, Tom Purcell came on the scene. He carried a rifle. Standing it by the fence, he replaced the poles that formed the gate, and warned Akers that the cattle were his, to leave them alone. Akers had a heavy quirt in his hand and came for the old man, who quickly reached for his rifle and shot Akers dead. Purcell covered him with a blanket and rode to Lethbridge to report to the police. At the livery stable where he stopped to leave his horse, he met a rancher from the Little Bow, George Baldwin, who in the past had tried to get Tom to move his spread to the Little Bow and away from Akers and the Mormon farmers. Together they reported the fatality to the police.
Tom Purcell was charged with murder, but he pleaded self defense. Sympathy for Purcell ran high, and a story is current that his friends gathering at the Lethbridge House during a trip to town to buy the supplies and cheer necessary for Christmas, decided to make an effort to have him released in their custody for Christmas as he was awaiting trial. Howell Harris, manager of both the Circle Ranch and the Conrad Bros. Company, was the eloquent spokesman who pleaded the case, and accepted custody of the prisoner. After the celebration Tom returned to his cell. The trial took place in the Alberta Railway and Irrigation Co. building that overlooked Galt Gardens from its site on 7th Street, between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. (The building was demolished in 1966.) When the case came to court, there were many witnesses who swore that Akers had made threats against Purcell's life. Tom was sentenced to three years at Stony Mountain jail but was paroled after one and a half years. Tom Purcell left prison in a new suit, with fifteen dollars in his pocket. He often said that better men than he spent a longer term in jail for stealing a calf. He returned to his ranch at Magrath for some time. Later he moved to the Little Bow to be with his friend, George Baldwin. He died at the ripe old age of eighty of pneumonia and was buried at Carmangay.
Nicholas Sheran came to Fort Whoop-Up about 1870 with John Healy. He was prospecting for gold. There was no sign of gold, but the outcrop of coal seams along the river's edge was enough to encourage him to open the first mine in Southern Alberta, on the west bank of the river across from Lethbridge, south of the C.P.R. bridge.
His sister, Marcella Sheran, came up the Missouri river by boat, and from Fort Benton to Ft. Whoop-Up by ox team. As an unmarried, charming girl, she had many suitors while she acted as housekeeper for her brother, Nicholas Sheran. In 1882, at Fort Whoop-Up, she was married to Joseph McFarland, in a white eyelet embroidered gown with other necessities purchased from the I.G. Baker store in Macleod. The I.G. Baker Trading Co. of Fort Benton followed the police into Macleod, starting a general store under manager Howell Harris. McFarland, and a partner Olson, proved that dairy stock could winter outside in Alberta when they operated an early dairy in Macleod.
The buffalo were decimated by the Indians, and buffalo hunters and their numbers dropped, but the grass still grew. The Indian Department had to have beef to fulfill their treaty obligation to the Indians, the police required meat, as did the traders and new settlers.
Howell Harris started the first cattle ranch in Southern Alberta, and others quickly followed. In 1880, the Dominion Government established a ranch at Pincher Creek to feed the Peigan Indians, under George Ives as manager. The cattle to stock the ranches were driven north over the Fort Benton Trail, a distance of two hundred and thirty miles from Ft. Benton to Macleod. Demand soon outreached the resources of Montana, and thousands of cattle travelled the long trek from the Rio Grande in Texas to Alberta.
As their term of service expired, many former North West Mounted Police turned to ranching. Capt. Winder formed the North West Cattle Co. In 1881, this company under the manager Stinson, imported twenty-one well bred beef bulls, and the same year trailed three thousand cattle and seventy five horses from Ft. Benton. Cowboy John Ware and Tom Lynch were in charge. In 1884, George Lane joined the company as a manager and used the U brand, as the original double circle brand blotched easily.
The Dominion government leased land to ranchers at a rental as low as one cent an acre per year. Leases could not exceed 100,000 acres. In 1884 there were forty one ranching companies in Southern Alberta leasing 2,748,000 acres and 115,000 cattle ran on the range. Five companies, or cattle spreads, as they were called, held leases for 100,000 acres; the Halifax Ranching Co., Jones, Inderwick and McCaul, the Cochrane Ranching Co., Oxley Ranch and the Walrond. The first round up ever held in Alberta was organized in Macleod in 1879, with sixteen riders and one wagon under W.F. Parker as captain. The largest round up was in 1885 when Jim Dunlap was captain, with fifteen mess wagons, one hundred men and five hundred horses. The round up covered an area from Eighteen Mile Lake north of Stirling, to Willow Creek and from Rocky Coulee to Mosquito Creek. It was many weeks work for men and horses, but over sixty thousand cattle were gathered. The last round up in the area followed the hard winter of 1906-07. It had six wagons, eighty five riders and one thousand horses.
The days when the grass was free were nearly over, farmers were moving in, and the day when big spreads owned a quarter section of land and leased a hundred thousand acres more, was drawing to a close. In 1897 the Walrond Ranch, which owned 1760 acres, bought one thousand acres more, at $1.25 an acre. At this time their inventory showed 37,566 cattle. In 1905 they owned 37,566 acres. In 1908 the Walrond ranch sold grass fed cattle at $26.50 per head to P. Burns and Co.
In 1883, before farming was general, the prices received for farm produce are interesting. Barley and oats sold at six cents a bushel, and wheat was 20 cents a bushel. Freight from Macleod to Calgary was four cents a bushel. Beef hides brought $2.50 each. Coal was $8.00 per ton at the mine. Sugar cost 30 cents a pound, flour $15.00 per cwt. Freight on a hundred pounds of flour from Fort Benton to Fort Macleod was $3.00.
The big cattle spreads established with English funds and operated for these large companies by managers, were not in Wilson, White, and Allenby area. Here the land was grazed by smaller ranchers' herds. One of the earliest ranchers was Mr. W. D. Whitney, better known as Curly Whitney He had been with the Northwest Mounted Police. At the end of his term of enlistment he started a ranch west of Granum with another policeman, Daly. This started the Whitney Brothers in the cattle business. Curly Whitney located on the St. Mary's river where the road goes west over a bridge to the reserve. He used the OK brand and the double pot-hook. He purchased some land from George Houk, and homesteaded the remainder. (George took a second homestead south of the Russell ranch, after he sold to Curley (W.D.) Whitney. He lived here with his Indian wife until he moved into Lethbridge, where he passed the rest of his years.) The first irrigation system was used on this land. Mr. Whitney and a man named Smith made a water wheel. They placed it in the river so the current turned the wheel, bringing up water to be spilled into a conduit leading to ditches used to irrigate.
Curly Whitney had been a farrier and blacksmith with the Mounted Police and later moved to Lethbridge where he operated a blacksmith shop and still later, a livery barn. The land he acquired is now operated by Frank Russell and B. G. Gwatkin.
South of the W. D. Whitney place, or upriver, was the Paddy Hassen place, now E. H. Russell's home. Paddy Hassen came in 1885 as a squatter. The government later recognized his right of ownership as a homesteader, after the Homestead Act became law. He had Indian wives and spoke the Blackfoot tongue. At one time he was an interpreter after the Indian Treaty of 1877 placed the Indians on reserves. During the Riel Rebellion he was a scout with the army. Paddy also wintered the oxen of the I.G. Baker Company's bull teams. He had an unfortunate end. He went to Macleod where he appeared in court to act as witness for the accused in a cattle rustling case. It was a very involved case, and Paddy's evidence saved his friend, however his own friends were not so loyal. A charge was laid against Paddy and he died of cancer in Stony Mountain prison in the early nineteen hundreds. His land was bought by George Russell, a neighbor up river to the south.
Mr. Russell was also an early miner in the area, while Nick Sheran had Mine No. I - the C.P.R. 2-8. He had the permit for mine no. 55, on his original home land, 18-7-21 W4 in the Lethbridge Seam Horizon. His son Harold was born on this ranch, the first boy born in Lethbridge. Alberta McNabb Wallace was the first white child born in Lethbridge. Tom (Frank H.) and Andrew lost their lives in the first World War 1914-18. Ernest, Fred and Florence - now Mrs. James B. Henderson, reside in this area, Harold resides in Victoria. A grandson Andrew Russell, the naturalist, guide, photographer and author lives at the Hawk's Nest at Twin Butte, south of Pincher Creek.
One of the last of the ranchers on the river was George Rollingson, who bought the land owned by James Ross, better known as Scottie Ross. Scottie had homesteaded the land, and obtained title, but found when the survey was done for the sale, he had never lived on his own land, but was on the adjacent quarter. Mr. Russell bought the Ross land, and later sold it to Rollingson. These were the informal years when red tape was something to ignore. James (Scottie) Ross, however, ran horses in the White area until the airport enclosed the last area of open grazing. Ernest and Fred Russell had herds of cattle running on the home place - Florence Henderson until recently was also interested in the cattle business. B. G. Gwatkin and Frank Whitney were cattle ranchers, grazing the prairies between Lethbridge and Stirling. However, by 1918 the farms had enclosed the land, so they leased land on the Reserve for their operations. When Barney Gwatkin bought the Curly Wlutney land he also bought the double pot-hook brand and still uses it.
The Galt family is referred to by historians as Empire Builders, and as they were primarily responsible for the industrial development of our area, it is interesting to see how they earned this title.
John Galt was English and had served an English company since 1830 with the British American Land Co. This company was interested in settling British immigrants on tracts of land obtained from the British Crown. Their first venture was settlement of the lower provinces of Quebec in the Gaspe peninsula. In 1844 John Galt was Superintendent of the Canada Co. when it obtained a large tract of land north of Lake Huron and abounded on the "Huron Tract". It was Galt's job to settle this land. His first enterprise was a road from Lake Huron to Lake Erie to gain access. He founded the towns of Guelph and Goderick. In 1851 the first railroad from Quebec to Lake Huron was built by the Grand Trunk Railroad Co. Galt was well educated and an author of note.
His son, Sir Alexander Tillock Galt, served Canada well, not only in his work for confederation. His signature is one of those on the original document as a Father of Confederation, he was a member of parliament, and later served as Canada's High Commissioner to London. It was while he was in this position that his son Elliot Torrence Galt, then acting as assistant to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, first visited the Lethbridge area of Southern Alberta. Here he saw the outcropping of coal along the river, and the quality of coal mined by Nicholas Sheran. Knowing his father was interested in attracting British capital to Canada, he informed him of the opportunity that appeared to be in mining coal in Southern Alberta. Later the Galts asked William Stafford from Westport, Nova Scotia, and Capt. Nicholas Bryant to investigate the site. On receiving a favorable report, the North West Coal Co. opened their first mine on the river bottom, but above high water, in 1882.
The coal was to be carried by barge to Medicine Hat, and to this end three boats and 25 barges were built. The first, the "Baroness", named for Baroness Burdett Coutts of Coutts Bank, London, was built in Lethbridge. She was 250 feet long, had a beam of 25 feet, and a draft of 3 to 4 feet. The "Alberta", named for the Territory, was built in Medicine Hat, and the "Minnow" was built in Fort Garry. However, this costly experiment was not a success, although on July 4,1883, the Baroness had steam up and was moving on the river. The barges loaded 1,000 tons of coal each, but three empty barges were all the Baroness could bring up river from Medicine Hat. The North West
Coal Co. had a contract to deliver 5,000 tons of coal to the railroad at Medicine Hat, but the barges only delivered 3,000 tons on the contract.,
Sir Alexander Galt raised $150,000.00 to build a railroad from Medicine Hat to Lethbridge. Construction started and it was completed August 4, 1885. Over this narrow gauge line 20,000 tons of coal were delivered to the C.P.R. in Medicine Hat. Coal was moving to Benton and Great Falls by wagon, but the American Railroads were a potential market. In 1890 starting from both ends, a line was built, connecting Lethbridge to Great Falls. The present railroad follows the same line. The company had a profitable experience in Lethbridge, employing over 2,000 men. No. 3 mine in Staffordville was in operation for 27 years, and No. 6 at Hardieville was the largest mine in Canada. In 1906 the C.P.R. bought the Alberta Railway and Irrigation Co and their assets of lands, mineral rights, irrigation systems and mines. By 1948 the last boom of the coal industry was on the wane, but over 24,000,000 tons of coal had been removed from the Lethbridge mine. There were over 1,800 miles of mine entries, varying from 8 feet to 30 feet wide. In 1920, the mines produced over 2,000 tons a day and the monthly payroll exceeded a quarter of a million dollars per month.
The North West Coal and Transportation Co. received 320 acres of land per mile of road, and an option to purchase a million acres at $10.00 per acre, for building the railway from Lethbridge to Medicine Hat and Great Falls. Land was an asset, as settlers were moving into the territories, but it had to be sold to pay the cost of building the railway. Sir Alexander Galt had a son-in-law, Charles A. Magrath, who was a surveyor. Magrath had surveyed much of the Southern Alberta territories. He was brought to Lethbridge to act as Land Commissioner for the company in 1891.
The original town on the river bottom had been moved to the top of the coulees in 1900. In 1890 Lethbridge had a population of 1,443. in 1901 it was incorporatedas a town, with its first mayor C. A. Magrath, and the population had grown to 2,072. Lethbridge at this time had a newspaper, the Lethbridge News; four churches, Presbyterian, Anglican, Catholic and Methodist; and a Board of Trade with C. A. Magrath as president. A four room school provided education, and the town was well supplied with grocery and dry goods stores, hardware stores, barber shops, livery stables, a water delivery service, a brewery, and other business firms catering to the needs of the townsmen and the ranchers.
Mr. Magrath never shirked a responsibility and he had land to sell. He visited eastern Canada and the United States to interest settlers in moving to this new land. He went to Utah and saw how the Mormon people had watered the desert and made it produce. On his return he surveyed the land to evaluate the possibilities of irrigation. He reported to the company the possibility of taking water from the St. Mary's river about 60 miles from Lethbridge and by building canals, to deliver it as far east as Chin Lakes. He was told to go ahead, more money was raised, and the company changed its name to the Alberta Railway and Irrigation Co. Elliot Galt was president and C. A. Magrath was Land Commissioner. Their mandate was to attract settlers.
From Lethbridge Centennial History, by Alex Johnston/Andy den OtterLethbridge Board of Trade formed Sept. 16, 1889, elected C.A. Magrath as their first president, a choice he felt "turned out an excellent move, as it brought about a contact that grew into a harmonious and active cooperation between the citizens of Lethbridge and the Company (A.R. & C) for the development of the district which was of great moment for both". Charles Magrath became first mayor of the newly-incorporated Town of Lethbridge in 1891, and Land Commissioner for the new Company (A.R. & I.) in 1904.
Once construction of the main canal and branches to Stirling and Lethbridge were completed, Elliott Galt redoubled his efforts to develop the countryside. A brochure stressed the certainty of good crops with irrigation, saying "The farmer is his own rainmaker." He launched an advertising campaign to lure settlers to the company's land.
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